Set within a deep, forested ravine just 7 miles (11 km) south of downtown Portland, Tryon Creek State Natural Area is Oregon’s only state park within a major city. More than 330,000 people explore the free-to-visit park’s 658 acres (266 ha) annually, making Tryon Creek one of Portland’s most popular and accessible nature escapes.
History of Tryon Creek State Natural Area
Sculpted through a prehistoric series of cataclysmic floods and lava flows, Tryon Creek State Natural Area occupies the original homeland of several indigenous Chinook tribes, including the Clackamas Chinook, Multnomah and Wasco-Wishram. The creek was eventually named after Socrates Hotchkiss Tryon, a doctor who settled in the area in 1850.
By the 1870s, abundant stands of massive old growth trees attracted logging activity, and timber was harvested there as recently as 1961. Forest renewal efforts began in the 1970s with the formation of Friends of Tryon Creek. This nonprofit group partners with state park officials to safeguard the area as a public park.
Sights and sounds of Tryon Creek State Natural Area
Filled with girthy second-growth Douglas firs, western red cedars, hemlocks and a thick carpet of ferns, Tryon Creek is a haven for wildlife. The dense forest canopy is alive with song sparrows, belted kingfishers, stellar jays and five species of woodpeckers. Snags and stumps throughout the natural area bare the telltale chiseling of the latter. (Keep an eye out for the Pileated woodpecker, easily identifiable by its large stature, black-and-white body, and crimson, wig-like crown.) Resident mammals include blacktail deer, red fox and even a nocturnal species of flying squirrel.
At the center of the canyon, the park’s namesake creek trickles steadily, acting as a year-round tributary to Portland’s Willamette River. A series of eight wooden bridges crisscross the waters, providing a vantage point to scan for Pacific tree frogs, rough-skinned newts, great blue heron, beaver and river otter, as well as a small population of native cutthroat trout.
Wildflower lovers, take note: Tryon Creek boasts one of the region’s most reliable showings of trilliums. Eggshell white with canary-yellow stamens, these tri-petaled buds are a harbinger of spring, adding pops of color to the evergreen hills. As bloom season progresses, the flowers gradually shift hues to a deep burgundy. (Blooms begin in late February and peak in April.)
Tryon Creek State Natural Area hiking trails
Eight miles (12.8 km) of paths lace through the park, with most leading down to the banks of Tryon Creek. Trails are well-signed and open year-round for hiking, but multiple junctions can make navigation tricky. (Be sure to grab a free printed park map available at the nature center.)
For an informative park primer, stroll the Trillium Trail adjacent to the nature center. This 0.3-mile (0.5 km) paved, universal access path offers a pair of overlooks and displays noting characteristic flora and fauna. To observe the creek, follow the Old Main Trail, a wide dirt and gravel path. It dips 100 feet (30 m) into the heart of the park to meet the rustic footbridges over the stream. (Tip to remember: What hikes down, must hike back up!) Don’t miss a side trip up the 0.3-mile (0.5 km) Lewis & Clark Trail to a wobbly suspension bridge above a fern-filled gulley.
A 3-mile (4.8 km) bike path skirts the park’s eastern border, leading cyclists into the community of Lake Oswego. Several trails are also open to equestrian use.
Activities and events at Tryon Creek State Natural Area
A staffed nature center serves as the hub of Tryon Creek’s activities. Inside, peruse informative exhibits, chat with park rangers, grab free park maps and purchase area guidebooks. You can also shop for postcards, local arts and crafts, nature-themed kids’ toys and, of course, Junior Park Ranger vests. Family-friendly guided nature walks with themes like “Slugs: More than Slime” are offered most Saturdays (no reservation needed). Feeling adventurous? Join guided seasonal evening walks in search of bats, owls and other critters that go bump in the night.
Friends of Tryon Creek host numerous park events , including the annual Trillium Festival, celebrating its 40th year in 2020. This beloved event takes place each April and features a native plant sale loaded with plenty of trilliums. Experts are also on hand to answer questions and discuss the role wildflowers and other native plants play within the ecosystem.